Professional military: Teaching the Kurds a lesson

By Scott Taylor

Last Tuesday, the Defence Department held a news conference to inform Canadians of the details surrounding the March 6 friendly-fire incident in Iraq. At the time of the tragedy, the Kurds had been very quick to blame the death of Sgt. Andrew Doiron, and the wounding of his three comrades, on the Canadians themselves.

Members of Canadian Special Forces carry the casket of Sgt Andrew Doiron.

Members of Canadian Special Forces carry the casket of Sgt Andrew Doiron.

According to Kurdish officers, the Canadians were not expected at the Kurdish front-line position, and one Kurdish commander told the CBC, “You don’t conduct training on the front lines,” implying that our Special Forces soldiers should never have been there in the first place.

Brig.-Gen. Mike Rouleau, commander of Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, finally presented the official Canadian side of the story. Looking every inch the combat soldier, Rouleau explained to the attendant press corps that a total of three separate investigations had been conducted into the incident. The Canadians conducted two of these probes, while the Americans, who have command authority over allied forces in the region, initiated the third.

It was in the detailing of the mandates of the two Canadian investigations that Rouleau’s presentation first started to go off the rails: one was to determine what happened that fateful night, while the second was to determine whether Sgt. Doiron and his three comrades had done anything criminally wrong. That’s right — they wanted to determine if the dead man and the three wounded victims were guilty of a criminal offence.

Notably, there was no investigation into whether the Kurds who gunned down our soldiers were in any way criminally responsible. As for the details of the shooting, Rouleau made it very clear that fatigue on the part of the Kurds was a huge factor. There had been a firefight with the deadly ISIS terrorists the night before, and these Kurds were really, really tired and jumpy.

Then he explained that, to make things even more dangerous, the Kurds had completed a shift change before the arrival of the Canadians that night, and the new shift was not told that the Canadians were on the way. At this point, the hands should have shot up to request a clarification from Rouleau. Were these dead-tired, jumpy Kurds, or newly arrived fresh replacements that were not up to speed? Because, although it makes for a good story, they can’t be both.

Then he introduced another twist: the presence of a pack of wild dogs. Apparently, as the Canadians approached, these dogs began to bark, and this in turn made the Kurds really nervous. These would be the same Kurds who have been fighting for the past 30 years in this region, where packs of wild dogs are commonplace.

Peshmerga on top of a T-55 tank.

Peshmerga on top of a T-55 tank.

When pressed to comment on whether the Kurdish soldiers responsible for the shootings would face any disciplinary action, it became apparent that Rouleau hadn’t a clue about what the Kurds intended to do. Instead, he emphasized that this was all a tragic accident in a case of mistaken identity.

His kicker was the quip that the guilty Kurd “did not wake up that morning with the intent to kill a Canadian.” The problem is that a Kurd (or Kurds) did in fact kill a Canadian soldier and wounded three others.

Anyone who has ever served in the military knows that discipline is harsh; the profession of arms is one that involves life-and-death decisions.

When Canadian soldiers were responsible for a friendly-fire death in Afghanistan, manslaughter charges and a court martial resulted. We even sent military police over to see if we could lay charges against Doiron and the other three victims.

The entire purpose of Canada deploying military trainers to Kurdistan is to instruct the Kurds on how professional armies adhere to a strict command structure and uphold the rule of law. The peshmerga know how to fire automatic weapons and rocket launchers but still require instruction in the areas that separate an armed mob from a professional fighting force.

The March 6 incident offers the perfect opportunity to demonstrate to the Kurds that a lack of weapons discipline resulting in the death of allied soldiers does not occur without severe consequences. To not hold the Kurds to the same standards of professional conduct that we enforce on our own soldiers undermines the entire rationale for us deploying our trainers in the first place.

One of our soldiers is dead, and three others were wounded. We are providing the Kurds with trainers, weapons and, most recently, some $160 million in aid money. Surely we are entitled to know the identities of those responsible, and what measures the Kurds are taking to ensure that such a tragic incident does not recur.

After all, Rouleau repeatedly affirmed that our soldiers had done absolutely nothing wrong, and yet the Canadians have taken measures — such as bringing a Kurd (instead of an Arab) with them when they visit the front line — to make sure we continue to improve the perfection of our soldiers’ conduct in the future.